How to Discipline Employees Without Hurting Their Feelings

All bosses will eventually have to correct their staff whether they like it or not. It simply comes with the territory. As a leader or a manager of people, your role is to guide your people towards the right direction. This often means supervising and monitoring your staff closely. If they make mistakes, as their boss, you need to correct them. If they exhibit negative attitude or behavior, you need to deal with it. If they are stagnating, you need to find ways to motivate and help them grow.

To a certain degree, being a leader is a bit like being a parent. When your child makes mistakes in the process of growing up, you are responsible in correcting them so that they will learn. If they are acquiring inappropriate behavior, you need to set them straight or else they won’t grow up to be well-adjusted and productive individuals. If you go with the easy route and just leave them be, you’ll have more problems in the long run and you are giving your child a disservice.

There is no doubt that some form of discipline should be instilled upon people, whether young or old, at home or in the workplace. The question, however, is not why discipline is important, but rather, how do you instill discipline.

How do you properly correct the mistakes of others without hurting their feelings? How do you admonish an employee who has been slacking off on the job and still show respect for his dignity? How do you keep your own emotions in check when you are angry? How do you maintain a positive vibe when you need to discuss negative things? And more importantly, how do you ensure that the person improves after you’ve disciplined him or her, instead of just ending up with a deflated and disgruntled employee? — These are just some of the issues many bosses have to deal with on a regular basis. See, it’s not easy telling people what they are doing wrong.

It’s not easy being the boss. But once you develop the skills to lead and manage people, your work life becomes easier. Once you have mastered how to discipline your employees the proper way, you will reap the rewards of having competent and happy people.

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the art of Employee Discipline…

1. Do not admonish at the heat of the moment

Bosses often get upset with stupid mistakes of others. It’s normal to feel angry since you need to spend valuable time and effort managing the damage. But at the heat of the moment, do not talk to your staff or write a memo. Pause for awhile. Things will get clearer the day after and you’ll be glad that you didn’t embarrass yourself, your staff or issued a demoralizing memo that’s not easy to take back.

2. Listen to all sides

If there is conflict between your people or a mistake is committed by an employee, don’t lash out immediately and tell them what they should have done. Instead, ask questions first and listen to find out why the employee did what he or she did. When you open your mind and listen, your staff may surprise you with good reasons for doing his or her thing. Who knows, he or she may have come up with better solutions. So listen first, before correcting.

3. Look at the big picture

Mistakes are not all equal. There are petty and minor ones; there are also major business-threatening ones. Although equally irritating, mistakes should be measured. Try to look at the overall picture. If it’s petty, don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t sweat it. If you perceive that all mistakes are major catastrophes, the more stressed and angry you will become. So spend time correcting major mistakes, but be more forgiving towards petty ones. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

4. Correct and Count

One of the board members of a company I used to work for has a simple but practical guideline in disciplining employees. He advised, “If you tell a person to do something the first time and he makes a mistake, talk to him. Perhaps you failed to communicate it properly. If the same person commits the same mistake the second or third time, correct him. This time, he already knows what is expected of him and needs to be corrected. If he does the mistake the sixth time, let go of him. This means that he already knows the mistake but cannot or would not follow you.

5. Monitor Improvements

So you need to monitor your staff closely. After spending time and effort in disciplining a person, what results can you see? Has the person improved? If so, then you are doing things effectively. If the person’s attitude or performance deteriorates, re-examine your methods. Perhaps the discipline method you chose is not suitable for that particular staff. If you’ve tried everything and there is still no improvement, perhaps the problem is not how you communicate but instead the person you are communicating with. If the person is the problem, you have to decide whether he or she is worth keeping.

6. Motivate or Terminate

There are employees that only need a nudge to get back on track. These are the people that will benefit most from progressive employee discipline. So seek ways to motivate and encourage them to improve. Meanwhile, there are those that no matter what you do, it seems like a hopeless case. When you find yourself spending too much time and effort fixing things and correcting problematic employees instead of focusing on your main job or business, you seriously need to think about letting the person go.

7. Know the Labor Law

Should you decide to let the person go, be sure to know and abide by the Labor Code of the Philippines. There are important keys steps that you need to take to legally terminate an employee, be sure to follow them to avoid future problems and DOLE complaints. Every business owner, boss, manager and supervisor should know the basics of Human Resource Management. There are important guidelines that will help you manage your people better.

Correcting the mistakes of people is not the easiest task in the world, but somebody has got to do it. Disciplining your people will feel awkward and painful most of the time, but it is something that needs to be done if you want a harmonious and effective workplace. So it is important to take the time to explore effective methods of disciplining employees.

To know more about best practices and learn the HR and Legal protocols for proper Employee Discipline, check out HR Club Philippines’ Employee Discipline Seminar.


Note:  This article was originally published at Manila Bulletin Newspaper.

Jhoanna O. Gan-So is president of Businessmaker Academy and HR Club Philippines.  Her organization offers public seminars and in-house training on Human Resource Management and Business Skills Development.   You may email your comments and questions to: